Youth sports are likely to continue outside for the foreseeable future due to the COVID-19 coronavirus (Photo by Barthelemy de Mazenod/Unsplash)

Youth sports programs in Marin County this week began operating under new public health guidelines, some of which the programs have already been enforcing for weeks to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The county guidelines, which went into effect Monday, limit youth sports groups to 15 people. Children are not allowed to participate in more than two sports programs at once, and they must meet outdoors.

Youth sports programs must last three weeks or longer, and all participants must remain at least 6 feet apart at all times.

“We appreciate the importance of group activities and exercise for our children both physically and socially, but at the same time, we have to take measured precautions to reopen safely for our entire community,” Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matthew Willis said.

Players with the San Rafael-based North Bay Basketball Academy have been following similar protocols for weeks.

“I mean, we have not shared a ball ever,” NBBA President and CEO Rick Winter said. “We have not done any scrimmaging. … Every single guideline that was imposed, we pretty much follow to the letter.”

Young athletes with the NBBA have played on 10 outdoor basketball courts in Ross and Novato throughout the summer, according to Winter. The NBBA also requires all players to bring and use their own balls and water bottles.

“I can’t control where these kids are, what they do outside of us,” Winter said. “But I can certainly control what happens within our courts and the sites that we’re using.”

The coronavirus is still too widespread in Marin County to allow sports competitions, tournaments or events, even if teams are from the same school, according to county officials.

Students in third grade through high school must wear face coverings when they are not eating or recreating outside. Face coverings are strongly advised for children between 2 years old and second grade.

Compounding the county’s inability to allow youth sports competitions is Marin County’s status on the state’s coronavirus watchlist.

State public health officials added Marin to the list in early July as coronavirus cases rose among county residents and at San Quentin State Prison.

The county must get its case rate per 100,000 residents below 100 to be removed from the list, which would then allow county public health officials to approve the reopening of indoor businesses like hair salons and gyms.

Marin County’s current case rate is 133.1 per 100,000, according to the California Department of Public Health. As of Wednesday, 3,596 cases and 58 coronavirus deaths have been confirmed in the county.

With tournaments and games a non-starter, the NBBA has shifted to skills training and conditioning drills.

County officials have said other sports like football and soccer that cannot be played with sufficient physical distancing are also welcome to pivot their programs to skills development and training.

“I think when we actually get back on the court for real and can practice and scrimmage and play games, the kids are going to be amazed at how much they’ve improved their actual fundamentals and skill level,” Winter said.

While youth basketball tournaments in other states have resumed, in a bubble or otherwise, Winter said he’s never considered putting his youth athletes or their families at risk by entering such a competition, despite some pressure from parents. And he said the cost is likely to be exorbitant.

Winter added that he is doubtful high school sports competitions will resume this year. “I would say, right now, it’s 50-50 that’s even going to be possible.”